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NPR Arts & Life

How To Make A Ghost Town

When photographer Dina Kantor first drove into the town of Treece, she was amazed by the beautiful mountains. Until she realized: Wait a minute, this is Kansas. And those mountains are not actually mountains. They are piles of "chat," or mineral waste from decades of mining.

"They're beautiful and scary at the same time," she says on the phone.

Since 2010, Kantor has been documenting a town in its twilight. Treece, Kan., once a booming mining town, has been a town without an industry since the 1970s, when the last mine closed.

In the wake of the mining heyday is a wrecked environment, a poor economy and a population in poor health.

"In 2000," writes Kantor via email, "the poverty level was more than twice the national average. According to an EPA test in 2009, 8.8 percent of children in Treece were shown to have elevated blood-lead levels, compared to just 2.9 percent statewide. Poor mining practices left the ground unstable and full of sinkholes. Mountains of 'chat,' the toxic remnants of the mining, surround the town."

Recently, the community in Treece decided that life there was no longer sustainable; they petitioned for a buyout from the government so that they could leave the town behind.

"Over the past year," Kantor writes, "Treece's residents slowly moved away, and their homes were sold or demolished. The water tower was purchased at auction, the roads were torn up, and the landscape is hardly recognizable."

A few residents have refused to take the buyout, but there are only about a dozen people who remain in Treece, Kantor says. The land will officially be auctioned off in the fall — the only stipulation being that it cannot be lived on.

"Though communities often change, it's rare to see one unravel entirely," she writes. "Ultimately, my photographs serve as an archive of the community, a document of its transformation, and an investigation into the environmental and economic impact of past practices on both individuals and the landscape."

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